| April 5, 2004

In watching the previews of Hidalgo I kept thinking it was going to be a cross between all of the great race movies using the special effects from The Mummy (one and two with Brendan Fraser). But I actually got to go to a free screening where they gave us copies of the soundtrack and an embroidered cap so why not go to the movies.
I am so glad I did. Hidalgo is made in the best tradition of the early Hollywood Westerns where the good guy (see John Wayne, Randolph Scott) can’t be corrupted and it’s the code of the west to do the right thing. We learn early on that he believes that you can say anything you want about him but you best never say anything bad about his horse. It just happens to take place in the middle east instead of under the big skies of Montana in 1890.
Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn in Lord of the Rings and “Weps” in Crimson Tide which I just re-watched for the 100th time) plays the somewhat autobiographical character of Frank Hopkins, a pony express rider who is purported to have won 400 long distance races in his lifetime. His costar is his horse, Hidalgo, who he calls “brother” and who he clearly feels is his best and only true friend.
With the Pony Express quickly coming to an end the two of them have been making a living in long distance races and joining a Wild West Show, bringing the action of the prairie to the big cities of the east. Hidalgo is billed as the fastest horse of all time, which brings him to the attention of Sheikh Riyadh who presides over an annual horse race that has run across the desert for 1000’s of years and, in his family’s opinion, is the home for the purist and therefore best horses in the world. Hopkins and Hidalgo are invited to enter the race and as a matter of pride and as a way to get out of what has become a bad situation, the invitation is accepted.
The race and the events that occur during it take up the bulk of this 2 hour movie. You will be taken across some desolate but beautiful landscape and will feel the heat of every race day.
Populating the story are some interesting characters. The aforementioned Sheik is played by Omar Sharif (Dr. Zhivago, Funny Girl) who recently said that he had been typecast so many times as “The Arab” that he had just stopped acting but felt this role was very different, with enough depth that he could enjoy playing it. He is excellent. His daughter, Jazira, is played by Zuleikha Robinson (Timecode). She’s the love interest but remembering that code of the west, the real love story is between the man and his HORSE so you won’t have to worry about bringing the kids to this one. I loved her work and the camera was very kind.
Speaking of the horse, Hidalgo was incredible. Director Joe Johnston (Jurassic Park 3/4, Jumanji, October Sky) did a classically good job photographing the animal so as to completely anthropomorphize him. Because of that photography Hidalgo didn’t seem sad at all so I hardly noticed that he had a long face (my apologies to the reader for the bad joke but if I didn’t put it in I would have to answer to all my friends asking me why it wasn’t here).
There are a lot of bad guys in the movie. No western would be complete without them. Many of them will get what they deserve so you can feel free to enjoy. The audience I saw this with hated one of them so much that when he finally leaves the story there was more than a little applause.
So if you can’t get tix to Starsky and Hutch this weekend, go see Hidalgo for a wonderful movie experience that is completely worth going to the theater for.

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